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An ongoing crisis summary to keep you informed, active, and sane. Written from a center-left perspective, focused on removing the threat of Trumpian autocracy. By Francis Hwang.

Day 493.

Immigrant children are being torn away from their parents. Does America care?

Sixteen months into the Trump administration, the nation's policy towards unauthorized immigrants and asylum seekers is increasingly defined by bureaucratic cruelty, as federal agents separate children from their own parents at the border and at ports of entry. Gone are the Obama-era attempts to keep families together while they await processing: Instead, the new administration is making family separation a regular component of border enforcement.

A program intended to keep families seeking asylum together was shut down last summer: As a result, more than 700 children were separated from their parents from October 2017 to mid-April. And earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged to criminally prosecute all who cross the border illegally, including asylum seekers planning to turn themselves in at ports of entry. Such prosecutions will inevitably lead to family separations as children are taken away from jailed parents.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing to stop the practice, and its lawsuit abounds with examples of heartbroken parents caught in the gears of the federal immigration system. A woman was separated from her blind 6-year-old daughter, who is now being held in a shelter an hour away. Another mother testified about the separation from her 18-month-old son:

The immigration officers made me walk out with my son to a government vehicle and place my son in a car seat in the vehicle. My son was crying as I put him in the seat. I did not even have a chance to try to comfort my son as my officers slammed the door shut as soon as he was in his seat. I was crying, too. I cry even now when I think about that moment when the border officers took my son away.

The cruelty is not an accident. White House chief of staff John Kelly told NPR that separating parents from children should serve as a "tough deterrent". The safety of the children themselves seemed to be only an afterthought to Kelly, who said when asked that they would but "put into foster care or whatever".

Such callousness is to be expected in this administration, where bureaucratic incompetence and the President's instinctual racism combine to form a Kafkaesque nightmare for families seeking entry. The Department of Health and Human Services has already lost track of 1,400 children placed into foster care. Immigration and Customs Enforcement targets known immigration activists and invents claims of gang affiliation. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told Congress that schools can decide whether to report their own students to immigration authorities. And the White House released an official statement repeatedly describing MS-13 gang members as "animals".

The GOP is now the anti-immigrant party

It's hard to believe now, but it was only five years ago that the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill. The 2013 bill passed 68-32 with an ambitious mix of measures: A path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants combined with increased border security, an entry-exit visa system to reduce unauthorized immigration in the future, and an expanded and streamlined legal immigration system.

In spite of the bill's bipartisan support in the Senate, it ultimately died in the House after conservative activists whipped up nativist anger, combined with a suspiciously racialized distrust of President Obama. Since then, the immigration debate has largely been settled within the Republican party: Its leader won his position due in part to a platform of white resentment, and immigration moderates such as Sen. Marco Rubio have retreated from their earlier positions.

For now, the immigration system remains as broken as ever, and the ruling party is in no mood to make legislative changes. Until the balance of power changes in Washington, immigrants will continue to bear the brunt of the dysfunction.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door

Your writer is an immigrant himself, but even he feels compelled to note that immigration proponents sometimes gloss over its short-term downsides. Immigration is good for the economy overall but can depress wages among certain groups of low-income workers. Far from big coastal cities, markers of change such as mosques and taco trucks can stoke fears of dislocation among those unused to diversity. Combine these anxieties with, say, wrenching economic change and a remote class of ruling elites, and you may end up with a populace that is eager to embrace demagoguery or worse.

And yet to give up on welcoming new immigrants would be to give up something essential about our country: A closed, fearful America would barely be America at all. If the words "Give me your tired, your poor" mean anything, then surely the Honduran girl locked away from her parents, fleeing unprecedented violence in her home country, deserves more than to fear what the American government will do to her next.

The issue requires a leadership that may be in short supply. In an ideal world, our politicians and thinkers would summon the courage and eloquence to guide us to an immigration policy that reconciles order with compassion. Whether those leaders will emerge, and whether our country would even embrace them, is anyone's guess.

Until then, more than a thousand children cannot be accounted for, and every day more are torn away from their parents in hysterical fear. Some of the most vulnerable people in the world are suffering at the hands of our own government, and every American is complicit in this moral failure.

Ultimately, every terrified immigrant child is just a child, worthy of love and protection and hope for tomorrow. That we cannot grant that future is an indictment not of their poverty, but of our own cowardice. Perhaps we begin by reminding ourselves of their stories, in the hopes of finding within ourselves the sorrow, and then the anger, and then the courage, to take action.

Perhaps then we can be worthy of calling ourselves Americans.